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How the Sox Grinder Ball Rules came to be

@scottmerkin
January 8, 2021

CHICAGO -- The 2005 White Sox championship season worked so perfectly that even their Grinder Ball Rules marketing campaign developed a natural connection before this 99-win group threw a pitch or took a swing. That connection comes as no surprise, with manager Ozzie Guillen at the heart of both. Guillen

CHICAGO -- The 2005 White Sox championship season worked so perfectly that even their Grinder Ball Rules marketing campaign developed a natural connection before this 99-win group threw a pitch or took a swing.

That connection comes as no surprise, with manager Ozzie Guillen at the heart of both.

Guillen was one year into his managerial regime when he joined Brooks Boyer, the White Sox senior vice president and chief revenue marketing officer, and a few other White Sox front-office members for an offseason meeting with David Stevenson of Two by Four ad agency in Chicago. In its first year working with the team, the agency wanted to dig in and understand what the White Sox were about.

“One of the things we said is, 'We are going to be changing our direction and take our lead from our new manager, from Ozzie,'” said Boyer of that meeting from 16 years ago. “So, we are in there, board room or conference room, and it was like a ripcord. They pulled the ripcord on Ozzie, and he went on probably for about one hour, would be my guess, of just what he wanted White Sox baseball to be all about.

“So much so that David is sitting there at the end of the table, and he’s writing and he’s writing and he’s writing. He’s got this yellow pad, it’s getting toward the end, and all of a sudden the yellow pad ends, and he had a glass table, and he grabs like an erasable marker -- like a grease marker -- and he just starts writing on the table.”

What were the main messages delivered by Guillen?

"Just win," eventually morphed into, “Win. Or die trying.” That sentiment was No. 1 among the Grinder Ball Rules, initially revealed at SoxFest 2005. But the word “grinder” -- or some form of it -- was also brought up many times by this soon-to-be championship manager.

“One of the things Ozzie kept saying was, ‘I want grinders. I want guys that play every game,’ and he was talking about all these different things,” Boyer said. “He kept saying, ‘I want to grind out wins. I want to grind out runs.’ He kept saying that.”

When that meeting finally was done, Stevenson, who runs Two By Four and serves as its creative director, gathered up his pages of ideas and told everyone not to touch the tables.

“He didn’t want anything to be erased or messed up,” Boyer said. “It was Ozzie in just the best shape of his life-type Ozzie. He was just in the heart of what he was doing of his vision of what he wanted.”

Stevenson developed and presented the Grinder Ball Rules to the White Sox from that meeting, with Boyer calling Stevenson one of the most unique minds he’s ever worked with. That 2005 Chicago team lined up exactly with Guillen’s vision, and more rules were added as the ’05 season progressed.

When Jose Contreras, Mark Buehrle, Jon Garland and Freddy Garcia threw four consecutive complete games to beat the Angels in the American League Championship Series? Rule 75: Heroes aren’t made. They’re rotated.

When the World Series championship was capped with Juan Uribe’s throw to Paul Konerko on an Orlando Palmeiro grounder up the middle? Rule 162: Crying in baseball is acceptable only if champagne burns your eyes.

When Guillen stressed that winning was the primary option for this 2005 crew? Rule 61: There is no “I” in team. But there is one in quit.

“The reality was when David came and presented to us, ‘Hey this is the concept, based on the conversation with Ozzie, the concept is you guys play by a different set of rules,’” Boyer said. “And that’s how Ozzie wants this to be.

“[These aren't] your normal baseball rules. You play by a different set of rules and those are the Grinder Rules. Grinder Ball Rule No. 1 was 'Win. Or die trying.'”

Television commercials, radio commercials and billboards featured numerous rules from a list that ultimately offered more than 70 inspiring quips. Boyer felt a similar special connection with the White Sox Change the Game campaign, in working with the White Sox current burgeoning young team that hopes for on-field results in 2021 compared to that grinding championship squad of ‘05.

“Every new one we made up, it fit perfectly,” Boyer said, of the Grinder Ball Rules. “It played exactly like the players played, the coaches coached, the fans perceived. Everything was along these Grinder Ball Rules.”

Scott Merkin has covered the White Sox for MLB.com since 2003. Follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin and Facebook and listen to his podcast.